Our correspondent Tony James has just been in the thick of the recent bushfires in south eastern Australia. Although well read on the subject of preparation for survival in such a crisis, this is nothing like the actual application of the necessary strategies required to protect your lives, animals, home and property as Tony discovered.
I knew it was going to be a bad summer. The worst drought on record and the early heat were nasty omens and they were accurate. Each village and town in country NSW has a Rural Fire Service staffed by volunteers. In November last year when northern NSW was already in a fire crisis. each local branch of the RFS held what were essentially ‘warning and prepare’ meetings which were well attended by local residents.
So instead of preparing for Christmas we were preparing our property for fire! The first thing on your agenda to survive fires has to be to have an evacuation plan for your animals. We worked long days, getting the fire pump serviced, setting up fire hoses, making sand bags out of old socks to block the downpipes so we could flood the roof gutters.
Next is to get rid of any burnable material (fire fuel) around the property. This can take the form of dry leaf litter, pine needles, dead trees, fallen timber etc. If a possible fire could come from the West, don’t have the Winter firewood pile on that side of the house and it should be at least 30 metres away from the house. This clearing up can be a time-consuming task. Indeed, we spent the best part of four weeks clearing gutters and raking up pine needles and dry leaf litter away from the house, which until now had not been a fire prone area. It is also a good idea to keep the ‘jenny craig’ paddocks eaten down and close to the house which reduces fire fuel. We stored mower fuel and LPG tanks well away from the house and pointed the LPG tank nozzles away from any structure.
Our Bushfire Survival Plan called for evacuation of the horses in daylight to yards at the pony club in Bowral 15 kms away. The Moss Vale Show Society opened its showground stables and yards to the public as an evacuation centre for horses, donkeys, alpacas and sheep before the smoke thickened. But somebody had to stay with their animals. In Bowral the Bong Bong Race Club opened its grounds for a large animal shelter. Same chaperone rule applied. Both these facilities were nearly full. My wife was to leave early with the three dogs and the cat in its travel cage and head into the safety of our other daughter’s house in the nearby town of Moss Vale.
Our main concern that day was the fire burning in hot, dry conditions due south of us which would escalate upon the arrival of a predicted strong (40-50 knots) cool southerly wind change. This would bring the fire and the devastating embers rapidly in our direction!
Our preparations were focussed on defending against an ‘Ember Attack’. These glowing sparks are carried by the wind, ahead of the main fire, They start spot fires which must be extinguished before they develop into bigger fires. Hence the need to keep all possible fire fuel wet. You also need to decide whether you will evacuate or stay and defend. We (my daughter groom and I dressed in the recommended 100% cotton shirts and denim jeans) decided to stay and defend to the point where our lives might be in danger, at which point we would leave with sprinklers running on the timber verandahs and the fire pump running next to the dam with the two fire hoses leading up to the house and fixed so to aim at the roof to keep the gutters full.
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